September 17, 2006

Marketing & The Pregnant Girl

Pregnancy is not just a transition into motherhood. It's not just a physical, emotional, and spiritual upheaval of your body and mind.

It's also a transition into an entirely different marketing demographic.

Recently, I've become addicted to baby propaganda (this, along with my physical exhaustion and dehabilitating work schedule, help explain why I haven't blogged in a couple of weeks). Babies don't come with instruction manuals, and there are a wealth of publishers who are trying desperately to fill that void.

Right beside those publishers are the advertisers, gleefully waiting to pounce on eager young mothers-to-be like myself.

At this moment, I have no brand loyalty to any manufacturer of diapers, baby lotions, formula, or any of the countless other products in that strange, powdery-scented aisle of the grocery store. Six months from now, I might be spending half of my paycheck there.

There are parts of this demographic transition that I'm enjoying. People want to give me free stuff. My first visit to the obstetrician included a swag bag full of vitamin samples, magazines, a breast-feeding kit (which, oddly enough, included a can of formula), and coupons for more swag. I also learned the secret of baby freebies: In exchange for sharing my name, address, and due date with the marketers of the world, I will allegedly get so much free stuff that, next year, I might be selling sample tubes of diaper rash ointment on the gray market.

There are other parts of this transition that I find a bit melancholy.

Old marketing message: Did you know that you can get completely hammered drinking Bacardi & Diet Coke, without blowing your low carb diet?

New marketing message: Did you know that only one supplement contains both Omega-3 fatty acids and the active form of folate?

Old marketing message: Buy a cute little hatchback! Fit is Go!

New marketing message: This SUV has two DVD players, so you can distract and ignore multiple children at the same time!

Old marketing message: Lifts and separates for dramatic cleavage.

New marketing message: Four hooks mean you always get the support you need.

I have no problem with the people who are trying to sell me prenatal vitamins, baby shampoos, or formula. I know little about these products, and I'll pay attention to their ads, particularly if they come with coupons or free samples. However, the marketers don't stop here.

I'm discovering a host of products and services that seem to have been invented just to exploit anxious, hormonal pregnant women. "Stretch mark erasers" are just the beginning. Here are some of the most interesting and expensive scams:

Marketing Scam #1: Cord Blood Collectors.

For a couple thousand bucks up front and an annual storage fee for the rest of your life, there are companies who will collect and hang onto the blood from your baby's umbilical cord.

The strategy is brilliant: They tug on the heartstrings with photos of sad-eyed little children and tales of horrible diseases that might be cured with a simple blood transfusion, if only the poor kids' parents had the foresight to save that umbilical blood. They toss in compelling quotes about the power of stem cells (never mind that embryonic stem cells are the really powerful ones, and those are long gone by the time the baby is born). And they play off your sense of urgency, reminding you that this is a chance that only comes once in a lifetime.

I have to admit, they had me scared for a minute. Just scared enough to do some research... and find out that the chances of a person needing umbilical cord blood during their lifetime is about 1 in 200,000. There are also public blood banks. Donor blood is probably safer, since your own blood is likely to carry the same disease that's causing you to need a transfusion in the first place.

Marketing Scam #2: 3-D and 4-D Ultrasound Photos.

Not willing to wait nine months before seeing your pink, shriveled, sticky little offspring? For a modest price, you can peek at your baby while he or she is still in the womb.

Personally, I find these pictures disturbing. Remember that these are the examples shown on websites, so they are best-case scenario.

I can just imagine an unstable, hormonal mother-to-be crying in the photographer's studio.

"My baby is yellow and has a flat nose!"

Let's be honest. Babies don't look cute until after they've been alive for a little while. Expecting a newborn to be photogenic on its first day is already asking a lot. The way I see it, the womb is the baby's space to be comfortable. Even if he or she looks like an alien, it shouldn't be anyone else's business.

Marketing Scam #3: Educational Tapes for Fetuses

The Mozart Effect hasn't been proven to make a bit of difference in babies' mental development, but I can't see any harm in kicking back, putting the pregnant feet up, and listening to a few sonatas.

But this is just plain ridiculous.

I'll summarize. You place the "learning system" on your pregnant belly, and it transmits educational sounds to your slacker fetus. It doesn't play classical music, tell stories, or include anything that might be remotely interesting for the mother. Nope, it plays "scientifically designed" sounds that mimic a mother's heartbeat. Heartbeat? I've got one already. Why should I spend $149 on a "scientifically designed" stand-in?

The marketing is dialobolically clever. They convince anxious mothers that this if they pass up this opportunity for pre-natal education, their child might never catch up to the kids who completed the "patented curriculum" of 16 audio lessons.

I'd like to give Rasbaby a chance to learn before he or she is born. Sometime next month, after his or her little ears are functional, we'll stretch out on the couch, and I'll read a chapter or two from one of my old business school textbooks.

"The line between targeted marketing and exploitation of people's vulnerabilities is a very fine one... Isn't that right, baby?"

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